Anki King’s and John Mitchell’s living area has been steadily shrinking as their art making has increasingly taken up more of their shared Meserole Street apartment in Bushwick. “We work on either side of the space and live in the middle,” says King, pictured above, with her soft Norwegian accent and a wide smile.
Throughout the ten years of being together, the couple, both painters, have not only established an acute understanding of each other’s daily work rhythms but have also developed a keen awareness of each other’s needs as artists. King says that one of the main reasons their shared work-live situation works well is their awareness of a shared need to spend time alone.
“We are both lone wolves in our work,” says Mitchell and King adds jokingly, “we get to live alone together.”
This awareness works well in daily life. When they are working on their art in their separate studio spaces for many hours, they can still occasionally find each other in the kitchen or when one of them “yells for help,” as King puts it.
It is evident that King and Mitchell share a deep fascination with the figure but they are approaching their work in almost contrasting ways, leading to distinct and very different pictorial languages. “We think and work very differently,” says Mitchell.
He paints on stretched canvas. She stretches her canvas to the wall. He cleans his palette after every painting session. Her palette is crusty with layers of paint and seems like complete chaos to him. He does not splash paint around. She splashes paint all over. He makes intaglio prints. She has made a few but doesn’t have the patience for it. He draws in sketchbooks everywhere. Most of her art making happens in the studio.
Indeed, King’s process is intuitive and organic. Guided by her imagination, materials and drive to search for a still unknown image. She is thriving on surprises. Rather than being in control of a decided outcome, she wants to be in conversation with whatever she is creating. She says that one of her favorite quotes is by the painter Elaine De Kooning, “when you are dancing, you don’t stop to think: now I’ll take a step, you allow it to flow.”
This spontaneous mode manifests in King’s loose brushstrokes which coalesce into dense grayish layers. In many of her canvases she has managed to successfully capture an essence of the fleeting feeling she has been looking for, her linear forms resonate an elusive scent in the Nordic woods where she grew up, conjuring primal collective memories beyond verbalization.
Unlike King, who works without preplanning and from imagination, Mitchell works his compositions out before he starts painting and works from direct observation of people and places. He thinks of portrait painting as collaboration.
“The process of painting a portrait is all about spending quality time with the person and getting to know them,” he says.
He also spends time on-site for his landscapes. He started “Three Bridge Painting” for example, by drawing on-site for over two summers and he continues to paint it on-site as often as he can for as many years as it takes. Altogether, his planned compositions, meticulous drawings and long term investigations of his chosen subject, manifest in his canvases , prints and drawings alike. They are precise but not dry. While alluding to painters like Alice Neel and overall deeply rooted in the tradition of representational art, many of his artworks evoke the urgency of the moment, revealing the painter’s inquisitive mind.
King and Mitchell’s mutual respect for their contrasting artistic sensibilities also translates into a warm support of each other’s work.
“One time I was so stuck with a work that I asked John to put some brush strokes on a piece to break it up,” says King. They are having a constant dialogue about ways of making, seeing and thinking about art. Moreover, King says that sometimes aspects of each other’s work sneak in.
“For instance,” she says, “I have started making some figures that seem quite alien and John worked on an alien world for several years.” So despite their distinct differences, there is reason to believe that something has rubbed off a bit after all, she sums up.